3 Days of Design 2023: designers asked to reassess relationship with natural materials

From milk carton chairs and palm leaf speakers to AI design concepts, here are our favourite projects and exhibitions from Denmark’s 3 Days of Design festival.

Returning for its tenth year, 3 Days of Design in Copenhagen, Denmark, looked at themes of collaboration, sustainability and Danish design culture. The festival was the biggest it has ever been with 13 design districts taking over the city, hosting some of the most well establish Scandinavian product and furniture brands alongside smaller brands in showrooms and exhibitions.

While simplicity and functionality are key characteristics of Danish design, it is most recognised for its affiliation with natural materials, a theme which cropped up regularly throughout the festival.

The material conversation

Natural Material Studio’s exhibition and talk space

Outside the buzz of the city centre in the unorthodox Refshaleøen district, Danish cross disciplinary design company Natural Material Studio set up a series of talks in its minimal exhibition space. Named Human Nature, the exhibition sought to explore the boundary point between humans and nature, communicating that we are part of a large and complex natural system.

Through a display of Natural Material Studio’s own biomaterials, the exhibition discouraged notions that nature is something humans can control or a thing that we can extract resources from without thought. The studio used biopolymers, natural softeners, clay and chalk to make the vast sheets that hang from the ceiling in the space.

Cool-toned lighting was positioned in the space to accentuate the qualities and patterns of the material. The studio also opted to arrange the sheets in a repetitive spatial pattern, seeking to reflect a feeling of monotony and evoke Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of repetition.

Bang & Olufsen’s Nordic Weave Beosound A5 speaker

Danish audio brand Bang & Olufsen showcased its recent collaboration with Gamfratesi Studio on the Beosound A5 portable speaker. Gamfratesi took inspiration from traditional Panama straw hats and handwoven accents of Danish leather chairs from the 1960, eventually landing on Raffia palm leaves as the hero material. The first space where the new speaker was exhibited was covered wall to ceiling with the Raffia leaves, with a second space showing the speaker in a homely setting, while the third space revealed more about the design process through sketches.

The speaker comes in two different finishes which both seek to reference Scandinavian aesthetics. The first – Nordic Weave – is made from natural aluminium with a woven paper fibre front and a light oak handle. The second features a contrasting dark oak handle and black anthracite aluminium, designed to evoke winter woodlands.

The third room in Bang & Olufsen’s Conversations in Sound exhibition which revealed Gamfratesi Studio’s design process

Bang & Olufsen spoke about its significant efforts to improve its sustainability credentials, which invovled extending the lifespan of its products to reduce electronic waste. The company is now striving for cradle-to-cradle certification with all its products, meaning the products lifespan never truly ends as it can continue to be used through repairs, upgrades and recycling.

To achieve the certification, products must be measured in five categories: material health, product circularity clean air and climate protection, water and soil stewardship, and social fairness. Bang & Olufsen’s Beosound Level – which includes the new A5 speakers –achieved a bronze cradle-to-cradle certification.

AI Futures

Space 10’s exhibition space

Research and design lab Space 10’s interactive exhibition Design in the Age of AI interrogated how useful the tool is for identifying hyperlocal and circular materials and challenging orthodox design processes as well as AI’s potential as a creative collaborator, which has been an ongoing conversation across the industry for a few years. It presented speculative concepts co-created with design studios using AI tools.

Speculative design project Couch in an Envelope was a collaboration with design and technology company Panter&Tourron that looked to challenge the traditional archetype of the sofa. It used AI to deconstruct design biases rooted in large language models and algorithms. The result – a flat-packed, modular, couch prototype – favours recyclable and biodegradable materials, and could weigh just ten kilograms.

Couch in an Envelope

Inspired by natural systems and in collaboration with London studio Oio, Space 10 created Products of Place, investigating how designers could use AI to work in a sustainable and localised way. It focuses on both abundant and waste materials found around the world and employs AI to inform a new design process, where hyperlocal tableware can be developed from a set of local variables, such as production capabilities, food cultures, and geography.

Reusing waste

The Conscious Chair Tetra Pak collaboration

At 3 Days of Design, green tech furniture company Mater exhibited its new editions of The Conscious Chair made from its patented Matek material in the oldest building in Copenhagen, Helligåndshuset. The original Conscious Chair was designed in 1958 by Danish furniture designers and architects Børge Mogensen and Esben Klint. Mater’s new collection marks the first time that the chair has been relaunched in a material different to the original.

Since being founded in Copenhagen in 2006, Mater has worked with seven waste materials: industrial plastic waste, coffee shells, plastic beer kegs, spent grain, mango wood, discarded fish nets and sawdust. The relaunched Conscious Chair collection was manufactured using industrial plastic waste mixed with either coffee shell or wood waste to achieve different finishes for the seat and backrest. It also uses three different woods for the legs and supporting structure: black stained oak, natural oak and a green wood.

Arla bottle waste

A year-long project with Tetra Pak challenged Mater to use post-consumer packaging waste to create a Conscious chair. Mater combined Tetra Pak’s waste with coffee waste to create the final product, which was exhibited in Copenhagen.

The result of two new collaborations was also revealed at 3 Days of Design. Mater worked with Oeo studio to design two furniture collections – a chair and set of coffee tables – which were designed based on the materials, as well as a collection of chairs designed for Danish dairy company Arla using milk cartons from its own waste stream mixed with coffee shell. The chairs will be used by employees in Arla’s work spaces.

A Circular Design Studio’s shelving unit

A Circular Design Studio also uses waste materials in its practice, specifically plastics, to create high-end furniture pieces. The studio’s founder Andreas Zacho had been sailing for many years, which is when he noticed the masses of plastic pollution in the ocean.

Plastic production is generally a closed process and requires large, expensive machinery and virgin plastic moulds but Zacho wanted to change this by developing an open process production. This means that the studio can mould larger sheets of 100% recycled plastic through digital production, resulting in an aesthetic similar to stone.

Over 600kg of plastic waste went into the furniture pieces in the exhibition and each piece is made of only one type of plastic, meaning it can go into any standard recycling system. A Circular Design Studio describes the exhibition as “a work in progress”, as it expects that all of the pieces will changes over time as it further develops its materials.

Celebrating craftsmanship

Scandinavian kitchen design company Reform worked with four designers and makers who created a bespoke set of handles for its 3 Days of Design exhibition. Each collaborators process is outlined by a series of objects with short descriptions that sit on a table beneath the finished product.

Designer Maria Bruun’s aim was to highlight the constructive and tactile qualities of wood, while Scandinavian glassblower Nina Nørgaard created a set of handles that are very natural and organic in their form.

Ceramicist Yukari Hotta made clay handles designed to portray dimension and the contrast between soft and rough forms as, like Nørgaard, she believes in allowing a material to find its own shape to create a organic outcome. Philadelphia-based artist and metal fabricator Alberte Tranberg used her knowledge of the material to “break the rules” set by industrial manufacturing companies, seeking to create a more tactile experience with her gold and matte black handles.

One of Reform’s exhibition stands

Design-led furniture company Eikund demonstrated how it takes Norwegian classic furniture pieces and relaunches them in a sustainable way through its Out of the Ordinary exhibition. The company works by looking closely at original sketches and designs, identifying how it can improve use of materials and production methods while still respecting the original piece.

For its 3 Days of Design exhibition, Eikund relaunched the 1960 Hunter Chair, made using organically tanned leather and sustainably sourced oak, as well as the Fluffy Chair, originally designed and made in 1954. It also exhibited versions of the furniture pieces on which it collaborated with contemporary artists and designers in a bid to bring new life to the classics. A bright, colourful version of The Fluffy Chair was positioned at the front of the space, which Eikund created alongside Norwegian yarn brand Værbitt.

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